Biden takes on immigration reform in early days of administration

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In the early hours of President Joe Biden’s administration, the White House released plans for the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, to reform immigration in the United States.

The proposed legislation could allow undocumented individuals to apply for temporary legal status, with the ability to apply for green cards after five years if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes, as described by the Biden-Harris transition team on the morning of the inauguration.

According to the Fact Sheet provided to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS from the new administration, Dreamers, TPS holders and immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements are eligible for green cards immediately under the proposed legislation.

After three years, all green card-holders who pass additional background checks and demonstrate knowledge of English and U.S. civics can apply to become citizens. Applicants must be physically present in the United States on or before Jan. 1, 2021, according to the document.

"It was kind of like a huge relief, especially in the past four years it’s been really tough having [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] (DACA) status, never sure of what’s going to happen — if the program is going to be taken away," said Cristy, a recent college graduate in Minnesota.

Biden immigration plan opposed by GOP, conservative groups

Cristy has status through the DACA program. Her family came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 2 years old.

DACA allows undocumented individuals brought to the U.S. as children to stay in the country and work without being deported, but the program was threatened under the previous administration.

"I think it would be hard to say that it’s not always on the back of my mind," Cristy said.

Based on the Biden proposal, Cristy could apply immediately for a green card and be three years away from possible citizenship.

"A pathway to citizenship is something that can only be created by Congress and the federal government — and to see the president making this priority day one is something that’s really heartening to the immigrant rights community," said Veena Iyer, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. “The statistics show, here in Minnesota, about 90,000 folks who are undocumented."

Senate Republicans are speaking out in interviews with the Associated Press opposing the proposal.

"A mass amnesty with no safeguards and no strings attached is a nonstarter," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) added, "Total amnesty, no regard for the health or security of Americans, and zero enforcement.”

"Immigration is one of the most politically explosive issues in American politics today. We’ve seen a series of presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, try to push through immigration reform and they both failed despite repeated efforts," Larry Jacobs, public affairs professor at the University of Minnesota, said.

Jacobs said Biden will have a tough road ahead with slim majorities in both chambers.

"It’s a brave and bold act — by Joe Biden — given the high risk he’ll fail, but it may also be one of the moonshots he’s willing to take to challenge our country."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.